Asheville City Council is getting by with a little help from its friends as its members select a new city manager. In a selection process not open to the public, Council has hand-picked a committee of “key community leaders” to help review candidates for the most powerful unelected official in city government.
Although Council members and city staff confirmed their intent to convene the committee when the search began in May, the city’s webpage on the manager hiring process makes no mention of the group. In an email to Xpress, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel said the panel will provide “input and perspective on a list of candidates,” adding that its members “will serve in an advisory role.”
The membership of this committee contains notable names from Asheville’s recent and current history, including former Mayor Terry Bellamy, former Vice Mayor Marc Hunt, Asheville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Cramer, Asheville-Buncombe NAACP President Carmen Ramos-Kennedy and Just Economics Executive Director Vicki Meath.
Other members are important community players behind the scenes. Rounding out the group are Housing Authority of Asheville attorney Djuana Swann, WNC Nonprofit Pathways consultant Kim McGuire and Malvern Hills Neighborhood Association President Elaine Poovey.
Hunt, who was appointed by Council member Julie Mayfield, says the panel didn’t have its first meeting until last week. He understands the group’s job as helping review candidate profiles, conduct interviews and broaden Council’s viewpoint on selecting the city manager.
“The single most important thing that [Council] can do, generally, is the hiring of the city manager and the supervision of the city manager,” Hunt says. “The goals of the community and the goals of the City Council are best served with the highest-quality city manager possible, so I just take it super-seriously.”
Hunt adds that the advisory committee is not tasked with achieving a consensus opinion on the candidates. Instead, each member will evaluate potential city managers from his or her own personal experience and perspective.
For Cramer, appointed by Mayor Esther Manheimer, the nuts-and-bolts management expertise of the candidates will be a critical factor. “I’m looking for someone with a great track record, who understands how to move the needle on infrastructure and those things that are necessary in order to keep a healthy community moving,” she says.
Swann, picked for the panel by Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, hopes to complement the range of opinions with her focus on affordable and low-income housing. She also says she’ll be seeking a manager with “strong leadership skills and who can work with different stakeholders within a community.”
According to the city’s search website, the pool of potential managers currently stands at 26 candidates. By the end of Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25, that number will be reduced to a handful of finalists to be considered in face-to-face interviews.
The public, said McDaniel, should have another chance to weigh in at that stage in the process. The time frame and format of public opportunities to meet the finalists, however, have yet to be determined.